My Whisky Ratings

Giving whiskies a rating is pretentious, silly and unhelpful. Which is all part of the fun! That being said, I have a system going that helps me directly compare whiskies, remember my preferences and make good buying decisions. It’s a 10 point rating.

Hold up, why not a more industry-standard 100 point system? To be honest, I simply don’t think I can tell the difference between an 82/100 whisky and an 83/100. My palate is clearly woefully unrefined.

“Johnnie Walker Black… Breakfast of champions. Accept no substitutes.”
– Christopher Hitchens

1. The score

Johnnie Walker Black Label (spice), Glendronach 12 (sherry) and Ardbeg 10 (peat) are my benchmark whiskies. They each received a solid 7/10 rating for being great whiskies suited to my tastes.

Whenever I try something new, I give it a score based on whether I enjoyed it more, less or the same as these benchmark whiskies. I then do the same against whiskies of higher or lower score – narrowing it down to find the “perfect” number.

Here’s how to interpret the scores:

10 Epic Time stood still. Angelic choir. Virgin birth.
9 Incredible Uncontrolled laughter / tears.
8 Excellent Delicious – this is an “experience”.
7 Great Rewarding and memorable.
6 Good Enjoyable, satisfying.
5 Average Drinkable, though undesirable. Pleasant.
4 Not bad… Not bad, but somehow unfulfilling.
3 Meh …but perhaps a few interesting qualities.
2 Ugh Shudder, nauseating. Avoid or regift.
1 Vile Prepare to give birth to a demon baby.


2. The price

The second aspect is the price. Each whisky gets rated on its price-per-shot:

Cheap! Less than R7 / shot
Inexpensive R7 – R15 / shot
Reasonable R15 – R35 / shot
Pricey R35 – R65 / shot
Expensive R65 – R135 / shot
Extortion! R135 – R330 / shot
Insanity. More than R330 / shot (yikes)


3. Bringing them together

Together, the score and the price form the final rating. Something like:

Johnnie Walker – Black Label
Quality: Great
Price: Inexpensive

The “winning” whiskies are considered those at higher scores but lower prices (e.g. Excellent and Cheap) and the losers are those at low scores and high prices (Vile and Extortion). In the spirit of avoiding the snobbery, if two whiskies have the same score the “better” one is the cheaper one.

Despite the huge subjectivity/thumb-sucking this involves, the mission is one of honesty and transparency. As such, scores cover the full range of 0 to 10, rather than being clustered around the upper-end out of respect for certain distilleries or styles.

It’s not a perfect system – but I find it helpful. Sometimes.